Canadian Packaging

Breaking the ice

For those who think that 24-year-old scotch is something special, it may be something of a revelation to find out that somebody in Canada is making vodka using 12,000-year-old ingredients.


December 21, 2010
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor

For those who think that 24-year-old scotch is something special, it may be something  of a revelation to find out that somebody in Canada is making vodka using 12,000-year-old ingredients.

But that’s exactly what the folks in charge of the St. John’s, Nf ld.-headquartered Canadian ICEBERG Vodka Corporation (CIVC) have been doing since 1996 to create the company’s flagship ICEBERG Vodka brand.

Pieces of 12,000-year-old icebergs are harvested off the east coast of Newfoundland to be used in the making of the ICEBERG Vodka brand.

“We are the only company in the world that produces alcohol beverages made with real icebergs,” CIVC vice-president David Hood told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview from the company’s administrative offices in Toronto, saying that iceberg water accounts for 60 per cent of the content of the ICEBERG Vodka brand, which is bottled on the company’s behalf at a Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC) facility in St. John’s.

“We are licensed by the Newfoundland government’s department of water resources to harvest tons and tons of icebergs from along the east coast of Newfoundland in the so-called Iceberg Alley,” says Hood, claiming that using reals icebergs to produce its ICEBERG Vodka, ICEBERG Gin, ICEBERG Silver Rum and ICEBERG Gold Rum spirits gives its products an incomparable edge in terms of product purity and the overall flavor and taste profile.

Clean Break

After the icebergs break away from a glacier in the Arctic and move to warmer waters, Hood explains, they begin to melt and shatter into smaller pieces called ‘growlers,’ which eventually reveal older, purer ice dating back as far as 12,000 years ago—well before any man-made pollutants or other contaminants could have made their way to that remote part of the planet.

“So in October of 1995 we announced we would begin producing an ultra premium vodka  made from harvested icebergs and triple-distilled neutral grain spirits distilled from Ontario and Michigan sweet peaches and cream corn,” Hood recalls, noting that the vodka is filtered four times to ensure a smooth, premium taste profile.

Filled bottles of ICEBERG Vodka moving towards the end of the packaging line at the NLC plant to be packed into shipping crates.

“If anyone thinks that going out and harvesting an iceberg and dragging it back to our facility via barges and tugboats is an inexpensive proposition they are sorely misguided, and the same goes for the corn we use to make the alcohol itself,” Hood asserts.
“Although it increases our production costs, it is important for us to use only use the highest-grade grain alcohol and the best raw materials to ensure a unique taste experience for the consumers,” says Hood, noting that the 50-employee NLC plant produced about two million liters of the ICEBERG-branded spirits last year —helping CIVC generate revenues of about $9 million.

The company’s attention to detail and quality have been amply rewarded to date not only in the Canadian markets, Hood notes, but also by the discerning customers in the U.S., Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, Israel, South Africa, Iceland and a few other European countries.

According to Hood, the shapely, iconic glass and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles used to package the ICEBERG Vodka brand—supplied by Salbro Bottles Inc. of Woodbridge, Ont.—also play an important role in the brand’s marketplace success.

Featuring a unique see-through front label with a textured finish, the ICEBERG beverages’ artistically designed “clear ice’ bottles have fissures chiseled in them to allow for condensation to occur when the bottle is removed from the freezer—making the bottle look like a piece of frosted ice, Hood remarks.

“The blue cyan cap on our ICEBERG Vodka reinforces the cold-cool feel of the vodka which we believe appeals to the consumer’s eye while blending beautifully with the overall color tone of the label,” says Hood, complimenting Salbro for supplying the striking, high-quality 50-, 200-, 375-ml and 1.75-liter PET bottles, along with the 750 ml, one- and 1.14-liter glass bottles.

“We’ve been working with Salbro for about 12 years now and our relationship is solid: We’re  like partners,” states Hood.

“They are very supportive of what we do, they keep us up-to-date on the trends and innovations in the world of packaging, and they understand what it takes to be successful.”

After being filled by a FOGG filler and Zalkin capper purchased via Newmapak, PET botles of ICEBERG Vodka are quickly and carefully conveyed to a Quadrel labeler at the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation's St. John's facility.

Likewise, Hood says he is very appreciative of all the hard work done by the NLC plant’s dedicated staff: “They have been a great partner for us all these years, and all of the success we’ve had is shared with them.”

Adds Mike Hawco, NLC’s director of distillery operations: “We’ve been working with ICEBERG since the onset of their operations and have enjoyed partnering with them in the creation of such a fine beverage.”

Hawco says that in 2007, the NLC committed to a large investment to upgrade its production lines to meet growing volume demands and selected Newmapak Ltd., a Candiac, Que.-based packaging machinery, conveying and automation systems manufacturer and distributor, to install a new filling line, comprising a FA3010 filler from the FOGG Filler Company; a model T10/567 capper with ROPP (roll over pilfer proofing) capabilities from Zalkin; a Posimat Master 20 Giramat Type inline bottle unscrambler; and a Double Q60 heavy-duty, wipe-on, pressure-sensitive labeler from Quadrel Labeling Systems.

“It’s really been a hard-working and a very reliable line for us,” relates Hawco.

Fast Work

“Depending on the size of bottle we are using, we can run it anywhere between 55- and 125-bpm (bottles per minute),” he says, adding that all the packaging date and lot code date is etched onto the bottles by a coder supplied by Videojet Technologies Canada LP.

ICEBERG Vodka bottles move along the production line between the Quadrel labeling and Videojet coding stations.

Sums up Hood: “We’ve got a great-tasting product and a great bunch of people helping us create it and, quite obviously, we couldn’t do it without their help.

“And despite us living in the past somewhat on the account of using ice-age water,” he concludes, “the Canadian ICEBERG Vodka Corporation is indeed looking to continuing our success together with our partners far into the future.”

All photography courtesy of the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC).